© 2006 Virginia Review, LLC


Hidden Assets: Turning Trash into Treasure

By Tracy Garland

In 1989, the journal Scientific American published a milestone article entitled “Strategies for Manufacturing,” in which the authors introduced the need for “an industrial ecosystem” in which “the use of energies and materials is optimized, wastes and pollution are minimized, and there is an economically viable role for every product of a manufacturing process.” Since then, an entire movement has emerged around this concept, termed “industrial ecology (IE).” The fundamental goal of IE is that business systems more closely mimic natural ecosystems in which materials reuse is considered extremely efficient.

This goal is markedly dissimilar to the linear system of extraction, processing and disposal that has traditionally characterized manufacturing processes. These “black box” systems input raw material, water, and energy that are processed in some manner. Outputs of these processes include the product, in addition to byproducts, wastewater and energy, solid and liquid wastes, gaseous emissions, and packing waste.

One of the principle elements of industrial ecology is the creation of “industrial ecosystems” through cooperation among various industries whereby the waste of one production process becomes the feedstock for another. This concept is also known as “byproduct synergy.” These symbiotic arrangements have five effects: to reduce the use of virgin materials as raw material input; reduce pollution; increase energy efficiency; reduce waste; and increase the amount and types of process waste that have market value. Many assistance programs have sprung up in recent years to help facilitate this type of commercial cooperation. A particularly successful assistance model is the materials exchange.

Materials exchanges provide the business community with a clearinghouse for buying, selling or trading byproducts, surplus materials and other types of reusable materials. Most connect buyers and sellers through a database backed interactive website. Historically, these websites have been coordinated and hosted by academic institutions and colleges, but have recently spread to municipal waste authorities and even trade and industry associations. Some exchanges are even private, for profit businesses. All vary in terms of assistance provided and service area.

In Virginia, we now have the Exchange Center of Southwest Virginia (ExCeS). This is an online materials exchange designed to facilitate the beneficial reuse of materials in Southwest Virginia.. It is sponsored by the Virginia Environmental Endowment and hosted by Radford University’s Environmental Management Assistance Program (EMAP). The system is open to all organizations, including:

Individuals responsible for waste reduction in a particular organization may create an online account to post, edit, and remove listings as desired. Listing submissions may also be made via fax or mail. Paper submission forms may be requested directly from the website (www.exces.org). Listings can include surplus materials that may be of use to another organization (materials available), or raw material needed for internal operations (materials wanted). In addition, ExCeS features user friendly browse and search options for organization seeking sources and locations of byproducts. Examples of byproducts include product overruns, overstock and discontinued items; manufacturing scrap, seconds, and damaged goods; excess raw material inventory; used equipment and machinery; and excess or obsolete office supplies and equipment. Each online listing will contain the location of the material and the email address for the listing contact. Interested parties are responsible for negotiating their own prices and arrangements for exchanging materials.

The business formula for success is well known: maximize revenue and minimize expense. Businesses can accomplish both through waste exchange. Economic benefits of waste exchange include:

Environmental benefits include resource conservation, pollution reduction and waste minimization. In addition, customers, employees and the community take special notice of environment friendly business practices. For all of these reasons and more, businesses that participate in materials exchange help to promote environmentally sustainable economic development.

The following are great websites on the same topic.

Business and Sustainable Development’s Byproduct Synergy and Industrial Ecology

Department of Energy’s Introduction to Industrial Ecology

US Environmental Protection Agency’s Jobs through Recycling: Materials and Waste Exchanges.

The Reuse Development Organization: http: //www.redo.org/

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